Linking Human and Biophysical Processes in Coastal Marine Ecosystems of Baja California

Small-scale fisheries are dominant actors in coastal marine ecosystems, engaging more than 90 percent of the fishers in the world and producing more than one-half of the worlds annual marine catch, but their dynamics are poorly understood. Scarcity of data, the multi-species and multi-fleet nature of most small-scale fisheries, and complex feedbacks among human institutions at the local, regional, and global scale render existing fisheries models inapplicable to most small-scale fisheries. The combination of local exploitation with multi-scale management of multiple target species creates a test bed for comparison of the biological and socioeconomic effectiveness of management at different scales ranging from the local community to centralized government. Most small-scale fishing is concentrated in coastal areas characterized by high productivity and diversity, such as coral reefs, coastal lagoons, and estuaries. These in turn are maintained by complex interactions between oceanographic processes in the nearshore marine environment and exchanges occurring at the land-sea interface. This interdisciplinary research project will simultaneously consider these different facets of complexity to examine higher-level, emergent behaviors that are likely to characterize small-scale fisheries of the Pacific coast of Baja California, Mexico. This research program will address the following overarching question: What explains the variation in performance of small-scale fisheries and associated coastal marine ecosystems? Performance is evaluated in terms of resource productivity, economic yield, sustainability of human activities and communities, and persistence of marine populations and ecosystems. Specific questions to be addressed include: (1) What are the relative roles and feedbacks between environmental variability and human institutions in determining the performance of small-scale fisheries? (2) How do feedbacks among biophysical and human components of small-scale fisheries vary across spatial (local to regional) and temporal (year-to-year vs. decadal) scales? (3) What fisheries management systems are more robust to uncertainty? Research will include the development of a series of integrated biophysical, agent-based, and bioeconomic models; statistical analysis and retrospective analyses of historical trends in catches, effort, and oceanographic conditions; and acquisition of new data through ecological and ethnographic field studies. This project will make significant contributions to biocomplexity theory, research approaches, and applications. First, it will elucidate complex interactions and feedbacks among biological, physical, and human processes linked through fisheries in coastal marine systems. It will integrate socioeconomic, ecological, and oceanographic approaches to produce predictive models of the spatial and temporal dynamics of small-scale fisheries. Second, this research program will provide graduate training in modeling and integrated social and ecological field approaches to studying human-natural systems. Finally, it will provide general guidance for the management of small-scale fisheries and a framework for examining the possible outcomes of environmental change, changes in fisheries regulations and incentives, and the new and future uses of coastal resources associated with population increases and coastal development. This project is supported by an award resulting from the FY 2004 special competition in Biocomplexity in the Environment focusing on the Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems.

Lead Investigator: 
Emergent Properties
biophysical, agent-based, and bioeconomic model
Baja California
Temporal Scope: 
historical - contemporary
Spatial Scope: 
Natural System: 
temperate coastal
Human System: 
small-scale fishing, multi-scale regulation